Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Responses to "Is It Really Impossible to Have It All"?

I am moved by generosity of everyone who has responded to my post with their stories, insights, perspectives and advice. The responses have been overwhelming. I have received close to a hundred emails (majority within couple of hours of the posting going live!), and Sandy the anonymous moderator informed me that she has subsequently received an overwhelming number of requests for a summary.

Then obviously, this is a topic we feel a great need to talk about and hear what other women have to say… I feel indebted to your generosity, and inspired by your responses, so much so that I have decided to start a blog on this topic: Dilemoms – Women Torn Between Motherhood and Career (http://dilemoms.blogspot.com/). It is my hope that we will continue this discussion and continue to support each other via this forum. Please share any further thoughts and insights on this blog. I, and I know so many others in this community, will very much look forward to reading what you have to say.

So, what did PAMP mothers have to say to my question: is it really impossible to have it all?

NOTE: (To keep this summary from becoming too long, please refer to my blog (http://dilemoms.blogspot.com/) for the original question. Also, due to many requests to keep the responses anonymous (and also to keep this summary from being 100-pages long), I have opted not to post the verbatim responses (except short quotes), though so many are so rich. I hope the blog will be a forum where we will be able to hear each other’s true voices…

Sadly, very few moms think that you can “have it all”. Some observations:
· Not surprisingly, working for oneself (consultant, contractor, individual practice) offered some moms the flexibility, intellectual engagement, and financial reward (a number of people say they make more money than they did previously).
· Having a husband who is willing to stay at home or down shift in their jobs appears to increase the mom’s feeling that she has it all
· Husband’s support (not necessarily willingness to stay at home) is critical – a few women said they’re able to have it all because their husbands are truly partners and do close to 50% of housework, parenting
· Those who try feel that they are better because of it: “It is not always a perfect balance, but I think my marriage is better because of it, and I like that my daughter identifies me as someone with a job, with interests outside of her, and with strengths that augment my childrearing.”
· Few commented that this is easier if you have A LOT of help (and make a lot of money to be able to afford all the help): grandparents/other relatives close by, staff of nannies to cover multiple shifts, personal chefs, assistants, gardners etc. An interesting point was made that in mediocre careers you may still have to work many hours but not have the resources that could buy you time…
· Having it all is not the same as DOING it all – some moms who feel that they “have it all” still suffer from the guilt of not always being the one to take their child to the doctor or making it to every soccer game/recital
· Definition of “all” also differs dramatically from mom to mom; for some, spending 2-3 hours a day with their children plus weekends while having a fulfilling career is just a fine balance, for others, 2-3 hours a day is just not enough
· One woman made a very powerful insight: Some jobs (such as business), getting to the top means more hours, where as others (such as academic research) getting to the top means more flexibility. Is it our responsibility to talk to our nieces, daughters, younger sisters about the path they are choosing at a young age and how it might affect their ability to balance work and life at a later stage?

Many who attempt to balance having a high octane career find the price to pay is very high:
· Interestingly, none of the moms have said that they feel their kids are not well-adjusted. But other moms around them observe their kids to suffer developmentally – overly aggressive, learning late, overly shy etc. Not sure if this is a case of big career moms reluctant to admit/disclose the true costs their careers have had on their kids or the judgment we place on other moms and attributing the children’s perceived problems to the mothers’ careers… Would love to hear more from you on this topic in the blog.
· A few women wrote to say that their mothers have had ambitious careers and that their upbringing suffered because of it. One woman offered this thought: “I think people feel the best when they do or give something that they know will truly help someone else. For my mother, she never looked at who she could help, she looked at how she could help herself, and it was never enough. She always wanted more: more esteem from others, more intellectual stimulation, more ‘stuff’ that the salary would provide, to be able to hold her head up in certain circles. None of that ever helped her out, so I don’t buy that route, but I think the consumer/tv culture sells it to us every chance it can.”
· Significant strain on the marriage: “I'd describe my marriage as "barely hanging on" due to overall fatigue, both of us feeling like the work that we're doing at home is unacknowledged and unappreciated, and total lack of time spent together.” Another woman wrote that even though she and her husband are still deeply committed to each other, they have decided that now is just not the time to focus on their relationships, that nurturing the marriage is just something that has to wait.
· “Me” time is practically non-existent and last priority; personal fitness and health often suffer, as does relationship with friends. And hobbies? What’s that?!

Majority of moms say that they believe you can have it all, but just not all at the same time:
· One woman shared an inspiring story of how her mother at age 43 changed her career, got an MBA, and eventually made it into the executive suite
· Many stay-at-home-moms wrote to say that although they are choosing to stay at home now, their ambitions are alive and well, and they intend at a later date to put their careers front and center again
· One woman suggested taking “career turns” with husband as a strategy
· Having children later in life, after you have accomplished what you want to career-wise (for most of in PAMP, I suspect this is no longer an option); some women point out that this can be risky strategy as biology may not always cooperate

So, if you want to give “having it all” a go, here is some advice from other moms:
· Set firm boundaries and work your career around it: “I have very clearly defined "bottom line" family needs and I have tailored my career to meet those needs. I need most weekends free (excluding nights and nap times when I can work) and I need to be home most nights from 6 pm to 8 pm to see my child.”
· Hire lots of help, as much as you can afford
· Get your spouse aligned on your goals – can’t do it alone

Other Resources (Articles, Books etc)
· Dilemoms blog: http://dilemoms.blogspot.com/
· Article: http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/bmag/sbsm0702/feature_integration.html
· Book: Beyond Superwoman (interviews of 25 top Silicon Valley female execs)
· Book: Flux
· Book: Mommy Wars
· Book: Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World.
· Oprah episode on this topic: http://www.oprah.com/tows/pastshows/200701/tows_past_20070123.jhtml

Thank you to everyone who contributed your point-of-view. I am looking forward to continuing our discussion on this topic on the dilemoms blog (http://dilemoms.blogspot.com/)!

Is It Really Impossible to "Have It All"?

Per previous posting, this is my original post to the Palo Alto Menlo Park Mothers Club that started an overwhelming flood in my inbox...

I am interested in getting some perspective from anymoms out there who have "big" careers, say either a VP level or above executive at a large public company, oran entrepreneur who has built a multi-million dollarbusiness. My question for you is an age-old one...is it really impossible to "have it all" (a highoctane, challenging and fulfillingcareer and a wonderful family/personal life)?I had always just assumed that it would be impossibleto do both. That you must make an either-or decision.(And my husband is probably even more adamant in thisbelief than I am...) We always assumed that it wouldbe black or white... Have an extraordinary career atthe expense of your kids and marriage. Or have amediocre career and be able topreserve the well-being of your family. So, why evenshoot for the extraordinary career if you prioritizeyour family above all...?

However, I am beginning to realize that neither choicein the either-or paradigm is acceptable to me. The naive/optimistic part of me would like to think thatpeople who say you can't "have it all" are just sourgrapes. That perhaps there are plenty of women outthere who are role models who reach the pinnacle oftheir careers and are still greatmoms/wives. The realistic part of me is skeptical.Afterall, there are no women in my rolodex who fitthis description. (OK, maybe a couple, butthey both have "house husbands", which mine will neverbe...) Are trade-offs really just a reality of lifethen...?

Of course, I do realize that there are lots of wayswomen can find fulfilment outside of a big corporatecareer or an entrepreneurial empire. And that thedefinition of "having it all" is completely personaland unique to each person. These are avenues I willdefinitely explore. But nonetheless, I am curious toget honest feedback from women who have either triedand quit because the price to pay for that"conventional" definition of career success is toohigh. Or hopefully from a few women who have triedand succeeded (or intimately know of others who have) so that the optimist in me can be satisfied that it IS possible, should it be something that a mom's heartdesires...

Anxiously waiting to hear your thoughts...

Why I'm Startiong This Blog...

Probably like many of you reading this blog, I have found the most difficult thing in motherhood is not the sleepless nights and exhausted days, but rather the battle between this deep instinctual desire to want to be the best possible mom against another strong desire to continue/pursue a fulfilling career that dominated life pre-baby...

One night, after a particular depressing discussion with my husband about the potential price it might exert on our family life -- well-being of our children and marriage -- should I decide to pursue my career aspirations, I decided to seek the "truth". I have found this topic to be difficult to discuss in person with other moms. To begin with, I could not easily come up with "role models" in my Outlook contact that seem to "have it all" (a beautiful marriage, wonderful/well-adjusted children, and a truly fulfilling and successful career). Also, I perceive that it is difficult for women to open up and publicly share the true costs. Finally, I have found that it is difficult to not feel judged or for that matter judge the choices that we as moms have made with regard to our careers...

As a first step in my pursuit of the "truth", a couple of weeks ago I sent an anonymous posting to the Palo Alto Menlo Park Mothers Club board titled "Is It Really Impossible to Have It All?" Within a couple of hours of the posting going live, I received close to a hundred responses to my e-mail. Subsequently, the moderator told me that she received an overwhelming amount of requests for a summary of the responses I received. So, it was obvious to me that women yearn to share and hear what each other has to say about this topic in an honest and for some anonymous forum.

It is my hope that this blog will be the start of a forum and community for dilemoms -- moms torn between the dilema of motherhood and career -- who struggle to answer the same question. I hope that we will share our stories, perspectives, insights, advice, or just words of support with each other as we embark on our individual quests to have it all or just have what is right for each one of us.

I look forward to reading your posts in the days to come...


P.S. Original post to Palo Alto Menlo Park Mothers Club to follow in a subsequent posting...